By Tom Ehrich
As a longtime “ink-stained wretch,” I feel entitled to say a word about Jeff Bezos’ acquisition of The Washington Post.
The word is “Hooray!”
I worked a college summer at The Indianapolis News, an afternoon paper that went the way of all afternoon papers as television took over.
I worked another summer at The Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette, a well-regarded regional paper that became the journalistic equivalent of “a player to be named later” in fire-sale acquisitions.
I spent six years toiling as a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, a great newspaper that not even an arriviste like Rupert Murdoch can kill.
Those experiences lead me to say “Hooray!” to the acquisition of The Washington Post by e-commerce kingpin Bezos, founder of Amazon.
Yes, “hooray!” Insiders said the Post announcement felt like a “funeral.” IMHO, they were witnessing a rebirth, not a burial.
Print papers have been hanging on — grimly, sometimes self-righteously — like a failing church that demands the community be loyal to it today because yesterday its pews were full.
Newspapers need fresh ideas, not Memory Lane. I expect Bezos to generate those ideas for the Post, as he has done for Amazon. Not a quick fix, but a long-term re-visioning.
Print owners have tried moving some of their operations online — most with little success, because online isn’t an extension of print, and no one needs the same-old-same-old on a computer screen.
People remain hungry for news but in small doses, delivered rapidly, for a quick-in-quick-out experience. This isn’t a dumbing-down of journalism, but a speeding-up.
People want to see the news, not just read about it, and see it with more depth than TV news can muster. Thus, videos, slide shows, charts — hello web.
Americans are profoundly weary of advertising. They fast-forward through ads on television, tune out ads on social media, and apparently have no interest in print ads. Advertisers are desperate, but that’s their problem. Talk about an industry that needs fresh ideas!
Some media outlets offer tailored news and crowd-sourced news, as if people wanted to select which news they read. I don’t buy that. What I see is a need for organized news, not filtered news, certainly not a “news hole” that is governed by the day’s ad buy.
Readers still want capable journalists to guide them in staying informed. That means quality and integrity. Too many local papers became political megaphones for wealthy owners. Who cares about their opinions?
Newspaper readers want local news, on topics that affect their lives. Delivery method isn’t a big deal.
As Amazon shows, Bezos knows a lot about distribution. Whether that holds a key for the Post remains to be seen. His turning the book industry on its ear probably portends equivalent paradigm-shattering in journalism.
I expect him to be results oriented, not driven by nostalgia or Watergate-era glamor. I hope he’s asking what is the best a local rag can be today. And if that means breaking some time-honored molds, bring it on.